Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Apr 2, 2008; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A

Home Sweet Home

Historic Sabine Hill bought by state, to be restored

By JOHN THOMPSON Elizabethton Bureau Chief

    ELIZABETHTON — A 190-year-old house that a year ago appeared to be doomed to a developer’s wrecking ball is the latest addition to the state’s historic treasures.

    The white frame Federalist-style house on Sabine Hill that commands the western approach to Elizabethton is now under the control of the Tennessee Historic Commission, with ultimate plans to make the 5-acre site a satellite to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, similar in operation to the Carter Mansion.

    Jerry Wooten, state historic sites director and capital projects administrator, said the house was begun by Nathaniel Taylor in 1811. He said it is one of the few remaining two-story Federalist-style homes from this era in the state.

    Taylor was a prominent landowner and slaveholder and became the first sheriff of Carter County when the county was founded in 1796.

    One of Taylor’s descendants, Harrison Taylor, said Taylor was an ally of Andrew Jackson and joined his army during the War of 1812. Taylor was promoted to brigadier general and Jackson gave him the responsibility for guarding the port of Mobile, Ala., from the coming British invasion while Jackson defended New Orleans.

    After the war, Taylor returned to his home and family,
but died from a disease he had picked up in the service. Taylor’s wife, Mary Patton Taylor, finished the construction on the house between 1817 and 1820.

    That was not the end of the history made by the Taylor family. The family tree that grew from that house includes two governors of Tennessee, a governor of Georgia and founder of Georgia Tech, a federal judge, a federal head of Indian Affairs during the settlement of the Western Plains and radio personality Ann Taylor of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio.

    The house fell out of the family’s hands many years ago, but most of the owners respected the history of the house. Harrison Taylor especially praised Jim Reynolds, who owned the house and raised his family there from 1949 until the 1990s. Reynolds did much to preserve the home, including taking the weathered boards from the front of the house and turning them to the protected side to improve the life of the boards.

    Harrison also praised the next owners of the home, Art and Vivian Eckerson. He said they purchased the home with the intent to restore it, but found they lacked the financial resources.

    They attempted to sell the house and after a few years on the market, John Molder of Elite Properties Development in Johnson City acquired an option to buy the house and 5 acres to build 46 condominium units. His plans included moving or demolishing the house.

    That plan ended the community’s benign neglect of the house and last year it was listed on the Tennessee Preservation Trust’s “Ten in Tennessee Endangered List.”

    The house got a reprieve when two community leaders, Sam LaPorte and Helen Wilson, purchased the home in July for $295,000.

    “Our intent was simply to buy time for the state to go through all the legal requirements to acquire the home,” LaPorte said.

    “Helen and I are thrilled this has now become a reality,” LaPorte, a former Elizabethton mayor, said.

    “We were glad we were able to do it,” Wilson, who leads the Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission, said. “When it is restored it will provide a beautiful entrance to our city.”

    The state’s purchase allowed Wilson and LaPorte to recover their additional investment and the cost of taxes and insurance for the time they owned the property, but their only profit was seeing the house preserved.

    Meg Bayless Lockhart, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy communications director, said the Tennessee Historical Commission will be responsible for restoring the house.

    “The Tennessee Historical Commission has made a capital request for funds that would be used for the restoration of Sabine Hill,” Lockhart said. “If capital funding is secured, the state will then solicit bids to hire a restoration architect, develop a scope of work for the house, solicit bids to hire a historical restoration contractor or specialist and commence restoration sometime hopefully in late fall or early winter 2008-09.”

    Lockhart said the goal is to have the restoration completed in two years.

    Harrison Taylor sees an even bigger future for the property.

    “I see this as an anchor that holds together the sites at Sycamore Shoals, Tipton-Haynes and Rocky Mount,” Taylor said. Taylor, a former member of Tipton-Haynes’ board of directors, said these sites “form the historic core of this area.”